Monday, February 17, 2014

The Dartmouth: Bored at Baker users report positive culture

Shared from The Dartmouth:
When the Jan. 10 post targeting a female member of the Class of 2017 was published on Bored at Baker, site moderator Blaine Ponto ’14 said it was removed so quickly after being reported by other users that she herself never saw it, despite being a frequent user of the site. If it had stayed up, however, the number of users who clicked “disagree” and “newsworthy” would have made it clear that the Bored at Baker community disapproved.

Since the post became public after its target wrote about it on the Class of 2017 Facebook page, Bored at Baker has been thrust into the spotlight, with many students decrying the sexist, racist, homophobic and overall offensive nature of some of its content. Last spring, students who protested the Dimensions show for accepted students were targeted by anonymous rape and death threats posted on Bored at Baker.

Users of the site, however, argue that Bored at Baker only receives public scrutiny following posts that violate the site’s terms of service, posts that they say are promptly removed.

The site’s content is overseen by moderators, a group of dedicated users that can remove posts that students say violate the site’s terms of service. There are currently 12 moderators, three of whom must agree to remove a post. The current moderator feature was introduced to the site in May 2013.

Aaron Pellowski ’15, who began using the site the summer before he matriculated, said that in the week following the Jan. 10 threat, the site’s most popular posts either denounced its author or expressed sympathy for the target.

“Everyone on Bored at Baker hates the people who post those things because they’re unrepresentative of the people who use the site,” Pellowski said. “Then everyone who doesn’t use the site jumps to the unintelligent conclusion that that’s what the site is, when really that’s the opposite.”

Pellowski said that the Feb. 10 gathering on the Green in response to the post allowed the Dartmouth community to come together, but it only allowed two student leaders to speak. In contrast, he said, a substantial and broader discussion took place on Bored at Baker.

Other students argued that the problem is not the site itself but the way that Dartmouth students choose to use it.

“The board without the students using it is a blank slate — it doesn’t invite any particular type of content,” said Callista Womick ’13, who has had an account since 2011 and continues to use the site as an alumna. “It’s really just a mirror of our own culture.”

Frequent users contend that the majority of users are sincere and intelligent.

Womick said she first made an account her sophomore year after hearing that the site was “a haven for the worst people on campus,” a claim that piqued her curiosity.

“In addition to the horrible things posted, there’s a really strong community who may not know each other in person, but they know each other online and share jokes and support each other,” she said. “There were upperclassmen users who I liked what they had to say, as well as lot of really funny people, and it allowed me to explore a lot of my thoughts and values and honed the way I communicate.”

Derek VanBriesen ’17, who created an account last summer, said he values the site because anonymity allows students to share their real opinions.

Bored at Baker also serves as a news source, VanBriesen said. Last fall, he first learned of Theta Delta Chi fraternity’s suspension from the site.

Pellowski said that Bored at Baker is the only place on campus where he has found authentic discourse about important issues, because in-person conversations must remain polite.

“There’s a huge amount of alternative experiences that would be completely invisible to me if I never used Bored at Baker, like how people view their fraternities, financial aid, classes and personal lives, and a lot of that stuff gets shared on the site,” he said.

He also said he was initially concerned before matriculating that Dartmouth students would be incapable of intelligent discourse, but that he was relieved when he found Bored at Baker and was able to converse with users who think critically about the College.

“It turns out that 95 percent of the people here are really pretty stupid and shallow and basic and vapid,” he said, calling Bored at Baker an “IV drip of realness” that keeps him sane.

Other students have used the site to work through personal issues. A male Ph.D. candidate at the College, who operates an account named “Pinkie Pie,” said that Bored at Baker has helped him battle his depression and feel connected to other people. He first joined the site in early 2011 and created the Pinkie Pie account during the interim between fall 2012 and winter 2013.

Users are able to create personalities on the site, giving them names and pictures. The Ph.D. candidate, who declined to reveal his identity because he wanted to preserve his anonymity on the website, said that Pinkie Pie has become her own entity, separate from himself, whom he refers to as the writer. Bored at Baker, he said, is a place for Pinkie Pie to express herself.

“There’s really no other kind of site where I’d feel comfortable with this kind of ... experiment,” the Ph.D. candidate said in an online message. “I’m ‘hacking’ my own brain, toward trying to stabilize myself. If the end result is something superficially like dissociative identity disorder or schizophrenia, I’m not sure I really care. I’d rather operate well with something like that than be depressed as much as I have been in the past.”

Reaching out for help on Bored at Baker is not uncommon, and many users use the site to ask for advice or seek companionship, said Pinkie Pie, the Ph.D. candidate’s online personality. She said that while it is easy to abuse anonymity, people will more readily reach out for help than they will in the real world.

A male member of the Class of 2014, who wished to remain anonymous because he did not want to be associated with the website, said that when he used the website he would often send personal messages to users who appeared to be going through tough times and offer to talk through their problems with them.

During the week, around 700 to 800 unique users log in per day, Pellowski said.

Ponto said she would estimate that slightly more males use the site than females, an inference based on interactions with users and observation of their content. She added that a majority of users seem to be sophomores, juniors and seniors, as freshmen are likely less aware of the site.

She said she believed that most content is generated by a relatively small percentage of users, while the larger community provides feedback by agreeing or disagreeing with posts.

The Ph.D. candidate, writing as Pinkie Pie, said that the site’s users represent a wide variety of students.

“[Bored at Baker] gets the shy, awkward, depressed, lonely, the angry people who need to vent, the frustrated social justice warriors, the desperately horny and the staunchly upbeat,” she said.

The original Columbia University version of the site, Bored at Butler, was created by a 2006 Columbia graduate named Jonathan Pappas, who goes by the name Jae Daemon online. There are now “Bored at” sites at Dartmouth, Harvard University, Princeton University, Carleton College, New York University and other colleges, as well as a “global board” connecting the sites.

Dartmouth users have been able to infiltrate other schools’ sites through various means, including via friends’ email accounts or asking for access on the global board. Ponto said the Columbia site is “tamer” than Dartmouth’s, while Pellowski noted that it is not used as much or by as many people and the posts are less interesting.

Users could not pinpoint exactly what about Dartmouth is different that makes the site more prone to offensive posts.

Ponto said that during a conversation with another longtime user, the other person said that Bored at Baker acts as an “equalizer” because anonymity grants all users an equal voice.

“We are so stratified at Dartmouth,” Ponto said. “All of these people can come together on Bored at Baker, and the anonymity erases all of these things.”

Womick said that posts targeting students on Bored at Baker reverberate around campus when students who do not use the site are informed if they or a group they belong to is being discussed.

“I don’t know how many students I’ve seen targeted in very hateful and extreme ways,” she said. “I don’t know how one can walk around campus and not know who was saying those things, or if you knew them, or if they would be physically safe.”

While offensive posts do appear on the site, the tone has changed, users said. With the introduction of moderators in 2012, reported posts are removed much more quickly than they had been in the past, Ponto said. She added that there are continuing conversations about potential changes to the website, including creating a permanent user ban or modifying what types of posts should be removed.

Students currently logging onto the site are confronted with a message from Jae Daemon, which responds to the recent controversy by stating that “great anonymity comes with great responsibility,” and should not be abused. He said he will continue to post similar reminders on a monthly basis.

No comments:

Post a Comment